Father

I came across an arresting picture on the internet recently, one that caused me to give some serious thought to what it takes to be a father.

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At first, I didn’t fully understand the symbolism inherent in the picture.  In fact, my first thought was that the son was systematically dismantling his father in order to complete himself.  Selfish, no?

But after a bit, I came to think the artist’s intent was more likely to show how much fathers give of themselves for their sons, even to the point of depleting their very being.  Selfless, right?

Still, I had difficulty coming to terms with either of those representations of fatherhood.  In the first place, I don’t have a son.  For the past forty-six years I’ve been father to two lovely daughters, so the picture didn’t truly portray me.

More importantly, though, I discovered I had a problem with the notion that fathers must become diminished in order that their children might thrive.  It’s true, of course, that any nurturing father will freely give of himself to help his children—so, in that sense, the picture of the fractured father did make some sense.

But it’s been my experience with my daughters that, the more I gave, the more I got in return.  And it wasn’t even an equal exchange!  What came back to me from the girls was infinitely more than I could possibly have given.

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As they progressed from infancy to girlhood, I used to tell them all the time how much I loved them, and I tried to mirror my words through my behaviours.  But with them, it was the reverse.  The loving attention they lavished on me—their hugs and kisses, their squeals of delight when I’d arrive home—made it unnecessary that they say anything.  They filled my heart every time I held them.

It was after each of them was born that I learned I didn’t have to carve out a chunk from my love for my wife in order to find love for them.  Love builds upon itself, I discovered; it multiplies and is unending.  So, each time I passed along one of those chunks of love, I was not depleted like the father in the picture; rather I was made even more complete.

Through their teenage years and into young womanhood, I came to realize the importance of letting them go bit by bit, even as I continued to hug them close.  And when they would come to me for advice, or even just for a sympathetic ear, our conversations were honest, sincere, and loving.  Even when I pretended to be the sage passing along my accumulated wisdom, I found I learned more from them—about their world, about the challenges and opportunities confronting them, and about the persons they were becoming.  Any chunks of insight I gave were repaid tenfold, and I was not at all diminished.

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As mothers now, their first priority is to their husbands and children.  I don’t see them as often as once I did, but our get-togethers are all the more enjoyable for that.  I’ve tried to let both girls know that, although they long ago stopped being children, I’ve never stopped being a father.  They understand that and still go out of their way to make me feel valued and loved—supplemented even now, not depleted; relevant, not sidelined.

There’s an old saying that we have to give a little to get a little.  Well, when all is said and done, I gave what I could as a father, and I got so much more in return.  With another Fathers’ Day fast upon us, I give thanks anew for the great privilege I’ve had with such children.

If I had a picture similar to the one of that father and his son, there would be two daughters, complete and whole, and a father—double their size, swollen with the love and honour they’ve lavished on me.

Bursting, in fact.

Paragons of Truth

It is beyond difficult to be a paragon of virtue, one free of sin and avarice, a human being to be admired and emulated, a soul who rises far above the rest of poor mortals who can only watch in awe and wonder.

Or so I imagine it must be, for (as my friends will readily attest) that description does not fit me.

There are many who have been thus esteemed, however.  A partial list from my own lifetime might include Leyhma Gbowee, Mahatmas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa, and Malala Yousafzai.  All but one of these worthies were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their character and accomplishments.

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There are others who could be added, as well—people who, for reasons varying by nationality, culture, religion, or political necessity, had bestowed upon them (even if only for a time) an aura of goodness and purity to which we might all have aspired.  They include Churchill (but not Chamberlain), Chang Kai-Shek (but not Mao Zedong), Ben-Gurion (but not Netanyahu), de Gaulle (but not Pétain), Graham (but not Bakker), Kennedy (but not Nixon), and Mulroney (but not Turner).

In truth, however, were all those so proclaimed really paragons of righteousness?  Or were they mere mortals like the rest of us—caught up in events largely beyond their control—but whose endeavours as they grappled with those events were in sync with our western-world point of view?

A close reading today of the historical record of those who have passed away, and of the contemporaneous reporting about those still with us, tells us that, in fact, all these heroes and heroines fall short of the near-mythical status granted them.

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The key to understanding history is knowing it was written by the victors.  But it is pretty much accepted that not everyone who reads that official history will agree with it.  We tend, as human beings, to see truth in accounts that reflect our pre-conceived opinions, and to disagree with reports that run counter to those.

One’s assessment of such historical figures as Columbus, Napoleon, Bismarck, Rhodes, Cochise, Lenin, Roosevelt, Castro, or Thatcher clearly depends upon one’s viewpoint with respect to their accomplishments.  Who among them was good?  Who was bad?

The history of our times that will one day be written will depend to a large extent upon contemporary reporting—by the press, the broadcast media, the social media, and the special interest groups—of the events now occurring in the world around us.  And many of the people who will read that history will have no first-hand knowledge of where the truth really lies—if there even is one truth.

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As a boy, I became an avid reader of the two daily newspapers that came into our home, especially the comics, the sports, and the weather forecasts.  Then, marking the example of my parents, I soon branched out into current events, and became able to identify the important people of the day, those gracing the pages I devoured.  I thought they were above us, those newsmakers, guiding the fate of the world on our behalf.  And I believed what I read about them.

Only later did I come to learn that many of my friends’ homes subscribed to other papers, and that their editorial biases were different from those we favoured.  I was shocked, truly, to realize that not everyone revered the same newsmakers I did—that, in fact, some people actually reviled them.  In an attempt to reconcile the discrepancies, I began to explore those other perspectives with a view to discerning what was true and what was misinformation.  With the advent of television newscasts, the sheer volume soon made that impossible.

But I did discover one thing, at least.  No one—not the most famous person found in the newspaper, nor the lowly paperboy delivering it (my status at the time)—was an unblemished paragon of purity.  All of us, no matter our station in life, had warts, even if those were not always readily seen.

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My mother used to encourage us to look for good in everyone—on the theory, I suppose, that if we didn’t at least look, we’d never find it.  She would remind us of the biblical admonition to mind the mote in our own eyes (I didn’t know for a long time what a mote was, but I dutifully tried to oblige), and the other about not casting stones, literally or figuratively, given our own shortcomings.  Good advice, if not always easy to follow.

So here I am, at the age of three-score-and-fifteen now, no longer believing there are any paragons of virtue in the world, but desperately wanting to believe there could be.  Here I am, not knowing what the real truth is, but desperately hoping there is one, still believing it will set us free.

As Abhijit Naskar has written, “It is a tragedy of modern life that the light of truth scares the society much more than the darkness of ignorance.”

So here I am, still reading, still listening, still exploring—still trying to figure it all out before my own time runs out.

On Etiquette

A decade or so ago, after almost forty years of marriage, my wife left me.  Oh, it was nothing permanent, thank goodness—just a weekend excursion she took with one of our daughters, who was visiting us in Florida with her two girls.  They left me to look after our grandchildren.

I was delighted, of course, not only because I love the girls, but because I knew it would give me an opportunity to put into practice all those theories about dealing with children that I’m forever espousing to my wife.

 Hah!  So much for that plan!

It wasn’t that my theories were without merit.  They were based on an assumption that children—and adults, for that matter—are responsible for their own behaviour, and should be held accountable for the consequences of that behaviour.  Pretty simple, really.  Our world might well be a better place if more people subscribed to that thinking.

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Now, before I go any further, please don’t get the impression that I ever told my wife how to raise our own two daughters.  Far from it!  She always brought her own common-sense approach into play during the many hours she spent with them.

But I couldn’t resist the opportunity—after I’d been away from fatherhood for so long—to put my theories into practice, dispassionately and all-knowingly, with my granddaughters.

However, I didn’t reckon on the fact that my daughter had learned the lessons of effective parenting only-too-well from my wife.  And the extent to which she’d been successful was brought home to me that weekend.

Right from the get-go, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any fault with my grandchildren.  On both mornings, they got up and made their beds, got themselves washed and dressed, and then wakened me.  Gently, with a kiss.

After breakfast, which they helped me make, they cleaned off the table without being reminded.  Then off they went, outside to play until it was time to walk to the pool—their favourite pastime.  The closest we got to a confrontation was when they asked if they could go barefoot.  I told them about fire-ants, and they readily dropped the subject.

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It was quite frustrating, because I wasn’t getting any opportunities to practice my pet theories.  Finally, however, I figured my chance had come.  We went out for dinner that first night, to a local place offering bbq ribs as the house specialty, and that’s what we ordered.  It was the perfect moment to direct the girls in the proper etiquette for dining out.

I tried to begin when the salads arrived, but I wasn’t fast enough.

“Use the small fork for your salad, Gramps,” offered the youngest before I could tell her the same thing.  I nodded obediently.

When I tried to say something else a few moments later, the oldest said, “Gramps, you shouldn’t talk with food in your mouth, remember?”  I nodded again, in guilty agreement.

Then, a minute or so later, while I was still watching for some breach of etiquette from them, the youngest piped up again.  “Please don’t let the fork scrape against your teeth, Gramps.  And your napkin should be on your lap in case you drop something.”  I hastily complied.

When the platter of ribs arrived, I received more advice from the oldest—even before I had done anything wrong.  “It’s okay to pick up the ribs in your hands, Gramps, but don’t lick your fingers.  Just wipe them on your napkin.”

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“Gramps, don’t eat so fast,” said the youngest a few minutes later, “or you’ll get a tummy-ache.”

This went on through the entire meal.  I was lectured to, scolded, and encouraged, all at the same time, by my own grandchildren.  Worst of all, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  Probably because, eating so fast, my mouth was always full.

But then, at long last, I found a way to seize the upper hand.  It was time to pay the bill, and I was the only one with money!  Confidently, I marched with the kids up to the cashier, flashing a broad smile at her as I pulled out my wallet with a flourish.  Rather than returning my smile, she merely looked at me—somewhat curiously, I thought.

Nevertheless, I paid the bill masterfully, adding just the right amount for a gratuity.  As we left, I bestowed one final, beaming smile on the cashier.  And again, she didn’t return it.

After we climbed back into our car, I turned to the two girls.

“There!” I said.  “That’s how you settle up after a good meal.”  I just knew they’d be impressed, and I smiled condescendingly at the two of them.

Ewww, Gramps!” they chorused in unison.  “You’ve got a big piece of meat stuck between your front teeth!”

Alas, being a grandpa isn’t always easy!

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Empress of the Garden

Very recently, I came upon some pictures of the neighbourhood where my parents purchased the last home they would ever own—a home where I spent the final ten years of my boyhood.  The pictures, old black-and-whites, had been taken before all the homes were built, and the streets were still dirt-tracks.  No one yet occupied any of the finished homes.  The cars and construction vehicles parked helter-skelter were like a virtual museum of 1950’s-era vehicles.

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It wasn’t long, however, before we and our new neighbours were moving in—into freshly-painted homes, with tidy lots of newly-laid grass, driveways of impossibly-white gravel, and (for the most part) no trees.

But my family was singularly fortunate in that, along our side of the rear property line, a row of mature trees stood, there for years before the developer arrived, perhaps marking the boundary between some long-ago farmer’s fields.

Our house was set amidst them—tall, ancestral trees, most of them, old enough that they could have known our grandparents’ names, and their parents before them.  To my young eyes, they seemed to reach endlessly to the sky, then bow over, protectively, to shield us from the world.

In short order, my parents established a garden around and beneath those trees.  Some were big trees, with trunks wide enough to hide behind, others were smaller, with branches dipping low enough to allow us to climb.

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On the hottest of summer days, my siblings and I could return from playing in nearby parks to collapse in the cool, welcoming shade.  In the crispness of autumn afternoons, we could jump and hide in (and scatter) the piles of fallen leaves my father had spent hours raking together.  He never seemed to mind.

At dusk on a cold winter’s evening, we could stare through frosted windows at the skeleton branches, stark against the darkling sky.  And in the rebirthing spring, we could search out budding maple-keys, housing seeds, peel them back, and stick them on our noses.

They were of many kinds, our trees.  The maple, which we tried to tap one spring to make syrup, but unsuccessfully.  An oak, scattering acorns on the ground for us to collect, and which brought the squirrels.  A beautiful beech, with its lovely bark and spreading foliage.  And a large, gnarled weeping willow that we used to hide under, its branches trailing snakily along the ground.

The oldest and most important of all our trees, however, was an elm.  Standing firmly on a small rise at the back of the garden, she reigned over the other trees (in my mind’s eye, anyway).  Encircling her base was a large rockery, broken in one spot by a narrow walkway of flagstone steps leading from the lawn up to the base.  At the top sat an old bench, which we always referred to as our throne.

But we rarely played our games in or around the elm tree, as we did with all the others.  At various times, we had swings attached to sturdy branches of some, and knotted ropes hanging from others.  For a while, we had a treehouse roosting in one of our trees, complete with a crude ladder nailed to the trunk.  And, of course, we climbed in as many of them as we could, playing at being pirates, or Tarzan of the Apes, or Robin Hood’s merry men.

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But, we didn’t play in the elm tree.  Somehow, she seemed too stately to suffer our nonsense gladly.  She rose, tall and columnar, to a great height, before spreading her branches, fan-like, over the trees around her.  They looked to be paying homage to her, perhaps because she’d been there forever.  For us, she made the yard a wonderful and safe place to be.

The empress of our garden.

But then, one sad summer, her leaves turned brittle and brown, and began to fall before their time.  During the other trees’ glory of autumn-colour, she was already bare.  When the following spring arrived, she budded only partially as disease spread through her limbs, and in the ensuing summer she shed her leaves early again.  When next the spring came with its hope of new life, she was dead.

For us, so young, her death seemed incomprehensible.

She remained standing for another year, maybe two, a haunting, spectral reminder of what she had been.  When her rotting branches began to break and fall off with increasing frequency, she had to be taken down.  And then, all that remained of her former grandeur was a large, wide stump on top of the small rise.

I still remember, quite clearly, sitting on the ground one day beside that forlorn nubbin.  I was simply looking at our garden, when it suddenly struck me just how small it really was.  Our trees no longer seemed so grand without their empress, nor so inviting.

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It was about that time, I think, that I began to put away my childhood games.

Mayday! Mayday!

Another pagan festival is almost upon us, the celebration of Mayday, which I dread with every ounce of my being.  It rolls around on the first of May, of course, and is observed in several countries around the world.

In its most malign form, it features a display of armed forces by autocratic nations eager to boast of their military might.  More benignly, it involves an innocent dance around a maypole by young lasses and lads, joyously welcoming the spring.

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But honestly, for me, the second is worse than the first.

Almost seventy years ago, when I was in grade one, I was one of those youngsters conscripted as a maypole dancer.  All the rosy-cheeked girls wore frocks and crinolines, and bright bows in their hair.  I and the other boys, all involuntary participants, wore jodhpur-type pants, shirts and ties, and sickly smiles.

We had been relentlessly rehearsed in the dance by our teacher, a lovely lady most of the time, but a tenacious taskmaster on this occasion.  Our mothers and grandmothers were gathered in the schoolyard to marvel at their darlings (this was in the day when everybody’s fathers went off to work, while mothers stayed home), and the children in the older grades were brought outside to watch, too.

The dance itself was not meant to be overly-complicated.  We stood in a circle around the pole, each of the boys facing a girl, whose back was to the next boy.  We all held one end of our own long, bright ribbon in our hands; mine was red.  The other ends were affixed to the top of the maypole—in this case, a steel volleyball stanchion.  When the music started, the idea was for the boys to shuffle counter-clockwise around the pole, while the girls went clockwise, bobbing and weaving around each other, first inside, then outside, thereby layering the maypole with cascading colours of ribbon from top to bottom.

We had to sing a song while we cavorted, an old tune that none of us liked—While strolling through the park one day/ In the merry, merry month of May,/ I was taken by surprise/ By a pair of roguish eyes,/ I was scared but I didn’t run away.

Believe me, every one of the boys wanted to run away, but we were too scared of our teacher to bolt.

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Anyway, right after the first or second turn around the maypole, singing that stupid song, the top end of my ribbon came off the pole, fluttering pathetically to the ground.  Thunderstruck by the disaster, I stopped dead in my tracks, which immediately caused a bumping and crashing among all the other dancers.  The singing died away, unlamented by the singers.

Had I not been too young to know the international distress call, I would probably have screeched, “Mayday!  Mayday!”

Quick as a flash, my teacher grabbed my hand and pulled me to one side, my ribbon trailing me, then got the others going again.  The synchronicity was ruined, of course, because the odd number of boys couldn’t zig correctly around an even number of zagging girls.

Every boy in that circle was probably wishing he was me, safely out of it, but I was mortified.  I couldn’t look at my mother and grandmother, so ashamed was I of my faux pas.  The only consoling thing was my teacher’s hand, softly stroking the back of my head.  I still love that woman.

Afterwards, everyone adjourned to the gym for tea and cookies (milk for the kids).  My mother and grandmother tried to reassure me, saying how much they had enjoyed the show, but all I could see were the faces of the other kids, some of them smiling smugly because they hadn’t been the one to mess up.

At some point, my grandmother took the ribbon from my hand and went off somewhere.  I scarcely noticed.  But after a few minutes, back she came with it, now gloriously fashioned into a large bow, with loops and knots galore.  It was beautiful, but I was too caught up in my internal anguish to acknowledge it.  A few moments later, my grandmother disappeared again.

After a while, we all went outside so some of the mothers could take pictures of the maypole.  I had to be convinced by my mother to revisit the scene of my shame, but imagine my surprise when I got there, only to see a big, bright red bow adorning the pole.  My bow!

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Those with cameras—little black boxes they peered into from above, shading the viewfinder from the sun with their hands—took picture after picture of all the dancers clustered in front of the maypole.

“Bradley’s bow!  Bradley’s bow!” the kids chanted, faces alight.

And at last a smile broke through on my face, too.  I may have been a klutz during the dance, but the pole was a smashing success because of me and my bow.  Or, perhaps more accurately, because of my grandmother and her love.

But regardless, Mayday has never since been my favourite of festivals.

Those black-and-white snapshots inside their scalloped frames are long gone now, of course.  Yet I still remember my teacher’s kindness, my mother’s proud smile, and my glorious bow.  And I have never forgotten my grandmother’s love for me.

I have, however, never danced around another maypole!

Boyhood Heroes

If you’re of a certain age or gender (and being Canadian could help), you may score well on this little sports quiz from my boyhood.  Give yourself one point for every athlete you can identify from the nicknames listed below; they are all North American because international sport had not registered in my consciousness way back then.  The answers are found at the end of this essay—

a) the Rocket; b) the Golden Jet; c) Number 4; d) the Bambino; e) the Yankee Clipper;     f) the King; g) Slammin’ Sam; h) the Rifle; i) Rocket Rod; j) The Greatest.

As a boy, I began to idolize sports heroes as soon as I gained an understanding of the games they played.  Throughout my teenage years, and into young manhood, that veneration gradually lessened; but I did hold onto an admiration for what they could do on their respective fields of play.  And even today, although I have learned such heroes are mere mortals, I retain an appreciation for their role in shaping me.

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When I was about twelve years old, a favourite uncle (himself a renowned amateur athlete in his youth) gave me a copy of a book he had read and enjoyed.  It was written in 1954 by Grantland Rice, an American sportswriter from the so-called Golden Age of American sport, the 1920’s to the 1940’s.  Its title is The Tumult and the Shouting, and I have it still.

A memoir of sorts, it tells of Rice’s life as a sports journalist, writing about the athletes he encountered over a working lifetime, people he regarded as heroes.  During the course of fifty-plus years, by his own account, he wrote 67,000,000 words—22,000 newspaper columns, 7000 sets of verse, and 1000 magazine articles—while also holding forth on radio broadcasts for over thirty years.  This was in a day when most people never got to see their sports idols and had to rely solely on what they read in print or heard over the airwaves.

For them, and much later for me, Rice was a gateway into a world that seemed magical, unsullied by the realities of the mundane lives we led.

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The parts of the book I most enjoyed in the beginning were the pictures of Rice hobnobbing with the athletes he covered, many of whom were also personal friends.  But I also came to love the more-than-twenty chapters devoted to these sports icons of a bygone era—people I had heard of, but who had long since left the building—in which Rice regaled me with stories of their exploits, both on and off the field.

In the years since, I have learned that many of these heroes had feet of clay, that they were subject to all the prejudices and shibboleths of their time.  Some became little more than lost souls when the games at which they excelled ended for the final time.  But the book doesn’t focus on those later, sadder times; rather, it tells of the athletic brilliance these men and women exhibited during their prime.  And for a lucky few, the glory never faded, even as their youth and prowess did.

If you are of my vintage, you will doubtless remember the names of many of the heroes celebrated in the book.  From baseball, there is the scurrilous Ty Cobb (the Georgia Peach), some of whose records still stand today; Lou Gehrig (the Iron Horse) who died too soon of ALS, a disease now named for him; and the inimitable Babe Ruth (the Sultan of Swat), cornerstone of the feared Murderers’ Row of NY Yankee hitters.  All three are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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From golf, there is the only man to win all four Grand Slam events in one year, Bobby Jones, who did it in 1930, and who later co-founded the famed Masters tournament; Babe Didrickson Zaharias (the Other Babe), a woman who was also a three-time Olympic medallist in track and field; and ‘Bantam Ben’ Hogan, a Career Grand Slam winner, widely considered to be the finest technician the game has produced.  All three are in the Golf Hall of Fame.

Football (where the ‘big-time’ was college ball, not the pro variety) contributed its share of heroes, including Harold ‘Red’ Grange (the Galloping Ghost from Illinois); Jim Thorpe (World’s Greatest Athlete from Carlisle), an Indigenous man who won Olympic gold in decathlon and pentathlon; and Bronislau ‘Bronko’ Nagurski, a Canadian-born fullback who excelled at Minnesota.  All three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From boxing, which was in its heyday back then, Rice mentions Jack Dempsey (the Manassa Mauler), world heavyweight champion for eight years; James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney, who twice defeated Dempsey—most famously in the fight known forever after as ‘the long count’—and who reigned as both light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion during that time; and Joe Louis (the Brown Bomber), world heavyweight champion for thirteen years, who endeared himself to Americans with his knockout triumph in 1938 over a German fighter who was thought to represent the growing Nazi menace.  All three are in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

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There were far fewer ‘big-time’ sports devoted to women than to men during Rice’s time, but, in addition to Zaharias, he gives prominent space in his book to Helen Wills Moody (Little Miss Poker Face) and Maureen Connolly (Little Mo) of tennis fame; Sonja Henie (Pavlova of the Ice) in figure skating; and Esther Williams (America’s Mermaid) in swimming.

All in all, over the course of 368 pages, there are numerous other athletes whose names I knew who are mentioned.  A partial list would include: Eddie Arcaro, Tommy Armour, ‘Dizzy’ Dean, Jimmy Demaret, George Gipp (Win one for the Gipper!), Walter Hagen (the Haig), Joe Jackson (Shoeless Joe), Cornelius ‘Connie’ Mack, Byron Nelson, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Gene Sarazen (the Squire), ‘Big Bill’ Tilden, and Cy Young.

He references famous combinations, as well:  baseball’s Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs, their lethal double-play skills immortalized in a 1912 poetic refrain, Tinker to Evers to Chance.  He mentions football’s Notre Dame backfield—Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller, and Harry Stuhldreher—of whom he wrote following a 1924 win over Army: Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again…  And that is how they are remembered to this day.

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There are even references to several famous racehorses, which (being a devotee of the Sport of Kings), Rice considered athletes of another sort:  Citation, Count Fleet, Exterminator, Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, and Whirlaway.

As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of these tales of grace and glory.  It did seem to me as I read them, though, that the athletes being lauded were all old; indeed, they were much older than I.  But today, looking at their pictures, I am struck by how young they were in their prime.

I believed then, and to some extent now, as well, that there is a simple beauty inherent in athletic contests between two individuals, or two teams.  If the scandals surrounding the doping of athletes can be set aside, if the corruption at the top of the world bodies that control sports can be ignored, if we can strip the competition among athletes down to its purest essence, that beauty can be appreciated.

On a level playing field, the best of the competitors will win, the losers will embrace the fact that they gave their best, and that is as it should be.  It is the sentiment that helped to shape my approach to life.

And that, in a nutshell, is why The Tumult and the Shouting still graces my bookshelf, overflowing as ever with the tales of my boyhood heroes.

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Answers to the quiz:

Hockey – a) Maurice Richard; b) Bobby Hull; c) Bobby Orr

Baseball – d) Babe Ruth; e) Joe Dimaggio

Golf – f) Arnold Palmer; g) Sam Snead

Football – h) Sam Etcheverry

Tennis – i) Rod Laver

Boxing – j) Muhammad Ali

From My Aging Eyes

from my aging eyes,

the boy I once was looks out—

hardly changed at all

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I was born before D-Day, before V-E Day, before V-J Day.  If you don’t recognize those occasions, you’re most likely younger than I.  World War II was the single biggest event in the lives of the generation before mine, and the year I entered the world, it was still raging on.

When I was born, I joined almost 2.5 billion other souls on the planet.  In North America, the average cost of a house like the one we eventually lived in was $3600, and the average annual wage was only $2000.  My future father-in-law, then a callow twenty-one-year-old, earned $800 that year, the first time he filed an income tax return.  A new car, for those who could afford one, cost about $900, and the gasoline to fuel it cost fifteen cents per gallon.  A bottle of Coca-Cola cost five cents.

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Among the people born in the same year as I (and you’ll recognize their names more readily than mine) were Arthur Ashe, Robert de Niro, John Denver, Bobby Fischer, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, John Kerry, Billie Jean King, Peter Marsh, Jim Morrison, and Lech Walesa.  Seven of them are no longer with us.

Major world leaders included William Lyon Mackenzie King here in Canada, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Joseph Stalin—many of whom didn’t like each other at all.

Among the popular films my parents went to see in the year I was born were For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, Lassie Come Home, The Titanic, and the winner of the Academy Award, Mrs. Miniver.  Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller were music icons of the day, and Oklahoma opened on Broadway.

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Some of the most popular books published that year included A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted. A. Lawson.  My favourite (which, of course, I was not able to read until six or seven years later) was Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara.

The New York Yankees won the World Series that year, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby, but both the U.S. Open in golf and Wimbledon in tennis were cancelled because of the war.

Invention, spurred on by the wartime effort, saw the development of the aqualung, the Colossus computer used to decode the German Enigma encryption, the ever-popular Slinky toy, and silly putty.  The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which cost almost two billion dollars, was well underway.

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Nachos were invented the year I was born, and remain popular to this day.  The ABC radio network began broadcasting that year, launched by the founder of the Life-Savers candy company.  The Philip Morris tobacco company unveiled an ad that, for the first time, acknowledged smokers’ cough, although they blamed it on other cigarette brands.  The chairman of IBM conceded that “…there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  And a Swiss chemist discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD—presumably on a trip.

I was born well before the following technological marvels we take for granted today became commonplace:  duct tape, television, Tupperware, credit cards, waterproof diapers, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cat litter, the Zamboni, crash-test dummies, aerosol paint, teleprompters, airbags, barcodes, heart-lung machines, WD-40, zipper storage bags, automatic sliding doors, radar guns, computers, hard disk drives, silicon chips, videotape, lasers, spandex, artificial turf, the Pill, LED’s, Buffalo wings, 8-track tapes,  CD’s, space travel, personal computers, the internet, and smartphones.

I was not, however, born before the Wright brothers first took flight (as my sons-in-law are wont to claim).

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But hey, lest this looking-back convey the impression that I long for the good old days, whatever they were, let me assure you that such is far from the truth.  In fact, as I approach my seventy-fifth birthday, I look forward to the changes yet to come—just as I marvelled at those occurring during my life so far—and with the same boyish enthusiasm as ever.

As Dylan so memorably wrote and sang, the times they are a-changin’.  But somewhere inside this gnarly old man, there still resides the precocious boy who spawned him, surprised he has not changed.

closing in on my

diamond jubilee, the

man is still the boy

man and boy1

          Have a happy birthday, old man!